Jesuit and philosophical arguments for the necessity of "self deception"?
December 5, 2007 8:40 PM   Subscribe

Two questions about the necessity of self-deception. (1)I recall that Jesuits believe that you can build faith by engaging in external acts; what is the source of this? (2)Also, are there any famous philosophers that maintain that while certain propositions are not true, it is imperative to act as though they were?

Jesuits: I seem to remember that the Jesuit counsel for those who found their faith shaken was to ignore it, and to keep praying, going to mass, etc. The idea was that faith would eventually follow the acts. Sort of a "fake it till you make it" approach.

Philosophy: I am trying to locate an argument that is pessimistically incompatibilist (holding a definition of free will that is not reconcilable with a deterministic universe, while believing in a deterministic universe), but which goes on to argue that it is necessary to act as though free will does exist.
posted by yesno to Religion & Philosophy (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
As for the question of free will, T-Rex and Utahraptor seem to hold that position.
posted by silby at 8:48 PM on December 5, 2007

So far as philosophy is concerned... You may want to look into fictionalism. Moral fictionalism is the view that our claims about morality are strictly false, but still quite useful. There are many forms of fictionalism and, while I don't know for certain that there is some fictionalist view of free will, I'm pretty willing to bet there is.

You can read about fictionalism here and here.

If you have any more questions about it, you're free to MefiMail me. I'm not an expert on fictionalism, but I know at least a little bit.
posted by Ms. Saint at 8:53 PM on December 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, are there any famous philosophers that maintain that while certain propositions are not true, it is imperative to act as though they were?

posted by jayder at 9:17 PM on December 5, 2007

Regarding developing a faith which is lacking internally through external actions - I believe you may be thinking of the advice that Pascal gives. Pascal stated in his Pensées that although if you began practicing the faith on the basis of his famous wager, you would initially just be going through the motions, and not truly believe in God, still, if you continued to practice the faith externally, it would eventually become internal.

I've never heard of the Jesuits advocating this approach, though. And Pascal was hardly a fan of the Jesuits.
posted by Wavelet at 9:28 PM on December 5, 2007

Hans Vaihinger wrote a book translated as The Philosophy of "As If" that might be what you're looking for. (He's mentioned in the links above, too.)
posted by cgc373 at 9:29 PM on December 5, 2007

Aristotle is the king of "fake it til you make it", sort of. His view is that becoming a morally good person is all about just building morally good habits. Just do them over and over, and your character improves. (oversimplified, yes)
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:30 PM on December 5, 2007

For us, the falsity of a judgment is no objection to that judgment—that’s where our new way of speaking sounds perhaps most strange. The question is the extent to which it makes demands on life, sustains life, maintains the species—perhaps even creates species. And we are even ready to assert that the falsest judgments (to which a priori synthetic judgments belong) are the most indispensable to us, that without our allowing logical fictions to count, without a way of measuring reality against the purely invented world of the unconditional and self-identical, without a constant falsification of the world through numbers, human beings could not live—that if we managed to give up false judgments, it would amount to a renunciation of life, a denial of life.*

To concede the fictional nature of the conditions of life means, of course, taking a dangerous stand against the customary feelings about value. A philosophy which dared to do that would thus stand alone, beyond good and evil.

--Nietszsche, Beyond Good And Evil
posted by jason's_planet at 10:06 PM on December 5, 2007

Nietzsche also had a quote in his aphorisms somewhere I think along the lines of -- the man who doesn't believe in determinism is a fool, the one that does is a madman. Actually, I've been trying to track that exact quote down (mine is a very rough paraphrase) for some time, if anyone knows the citation I'd love to know.
posted by socialpsychologist at 10:33 PM on December 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

What I affirm is the intuition that where God's presence is no longer a tenable supposition and where His absence is no longer a felt, indeed overwhelming weight, certain dimensions of thought and creativity are no longer attainable. And I would vary Yeats's axiom so as to say: no man can read fully, can answer answeringly to the aesthetic, whose 'nerve and blood' are at peace in sceptical rationality, are now at home in immanence and verification. We must read as if. --George Steiner, "Real Presences"
posted by limon at 11:06 PM on December 5, 2007

I'm not an expert, but I think some make the case that li (ritual propriety) in Confucius suggests a fake it till you make it approach too, though iirc he demanded sincerity but realised it wasn't always going to be there.
posted by Abiezer at 2:19 AM on December 6, 2007

I believe the Jesuit connection you are thinking of comes from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. There's a section of the Exercises called the Rules for Discernment of Spirits, in which Ignatius counsels believers that they will go through times of doubt, disturbance, and temptation. His advice is to pray more rather than less, since it is the evil spirit who guides people during these times, so the need for prayer and discipline is actually greater. Such times should pass and make one's faith even stronger.

These Exercises are one of the founding documents of the Jesuits and are the primary source of structure for a 30-day retreat that every Jesuit makes twice during his time in the Society.
posted by paschke at 4:20 AM on December 6, 2007

Hume is also very close to this position. The idea of causal connections that can be used to predict future events, the idea that objects exist independently of our perceptions, and the idea of the self, i.e. that I am somehow the same person today as I was yesterday, are all examples of "natural beliefs" that we pretty much have to stick to but that are absolutely unfounded if you look at them philosophically and try to justify them. It is "imperative" to believe this things, not in the sense that it's morally imperative, just in the sense that you won't get very far in life if you don't.

Kant thought that God, freedom, and the immortality of the soul were not provable but nonetheless necessary assumptions for moral practice.

Someone was telling me about Smilansky's "illusionism". I'm not sure how it differs from fictionalism, but googling I found this.
posted by creasy boy at 5:39 AM on December 6, 2007

I don't know if you'd consider Kurt Vonnegut a philosopher, but anyway, "Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:51 AM on December 6, 2007

Regarding 'keep on keeping on", a similar idea was expressed by the St. John of the Cross in The Dark Night of the Soul. (Wikipedia, original text). C.S. Lewis also touches on it obliquely in Mere Christianity.
posted by jquinby at 9:17 AM on December 6, 2007

yesno: I am trying to locate an argument that is pessimistically incompatibilist (holding a definition of free will that is not reconcilable with a deterministic universe, while believing in a deterministic universe), but which goes on to argue that it is necessary to act as though free will does exist.

It seems to me that the primary purveyor of the position you're describing is Nietzsche. The chief work of his where you can read some about his perspective on this is his excellent, and too-little-known, Daybreak. Lucky for you, I happened to throw it in my bag on a whim as I was heading for work this morning.

Nietzsche is very, very difficult to read, and you have to continuously remind yourself to pay attention to context. Here are a few sections from the second book of Daybreak to begin to circumference Nietzsche's teaching:

What is willing! -- We laugh at him who steps out of his room at the moment when the sun steps out of its room, and then says: 'I will that the sun shall rise'; and at him who cannot stop a wheel, and says: 'I will that it shall roll'; and at him who is thrown down in wrestling, and says: 'here I lie, but I will lie here!' But, all laughter aside, are we ourselves ever acting any differently whenever we employ the expression: 'I will'?

Dream and responsibility. -- You are willing to assume responsibility for everything! Except, that is, for your dreams! What miserable weakness, what lack of consistent courage! Nothing is more your own than your dreams! Nothing more your own work! Content, form, duration, performer, spectator -- in these comedies you are all of this yourself! And it is precisely here that you rebuff and are ashamed of yourselves, and even Oedipus, the wise Oedipus, derived consolation from the thought that we cannot help what we dream! From this I conclude that the great majority of mankind must be conscious of having abominable dreams. If it were otherwise, how greatly this nocturnal poetising would have been exploited for the enhancement of human arrogance! -- Do I have to add that the wise Oedipus was right, that we really are not responsible for our dreams -- but just as little for our waking life, and that the doctrine of freedom of will has human pride and feeling of power for its father and mother? Perhaps I say this too often: but at least that does not make it an error.

He does indeed mention it over and over again in that work, which is subtitled Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality. It seems to me to be a major theme. The interesting thing to note is another major theme which contradicts it, one which is highlighted mainly in the third book, that of 'little deviant acts.' Following is the first section of that book:

The need for little deviant acts. -- Sometimes to act against one's better judgement when it comes to questions of custom; to give way in practice while keeping one's reservations to oneself; to do as everyone does and thus to show them consideration as it were in compensation for our deviant opinions: -- many tolerably free-minded people regard this, not merely as unobjectionable, but as 'honest,' 'humane', 'tolerant', 'not being pedantic', and whatever else those pretty words may be with which the intellectual conscience is lulled to sleep: and thus this person takes his child for Christian baptism though he is an atheist; and that person serves in the army as all the world does, however much he may execrate hatred between the nations; and a third marries his wife in church because her relatives are pious and is not ashamed to repeat vows before a priest. 'It doesn't really matter if people like us also do what everyone does and always has done' -- this is the thoughtless prejudice! The thoughtless error! For nothing matters more than that an already might, anciently established and irrationally recognized custom should be once more confirmed by a person reognised as rational: it thereby acquires in the eyes of all who come to hear of it the sanction of rationality itself! All respect to your opinions! But little deviant acts are worth more!

Again, the temptation with Nietzsche is always to take his statements out of context. We should be careful to understand how strange it is that a man who spent the last book of this work ruling out the possibility of freedom of the will should give us an injunction.

I don't want to go on forever, and I have a feeling I've already pointed to some reasons why Nietzsche is really the prime example of someone who argued against the trueness of our sense of freedom while arguing in favor of utilizing it. However, I'll add that it seems to me that the massive change in society which Nietzsche undertook to bring about has actually been brought about, and that he is responsible for a fair portion of the makeup of modern society. I'm certain that Nietzsche knew that it would, and there are numerous indications in Daybreak that this is the case, for example sections 175 ("Today one can see coming into existence the culture of a society of which commerce is as much the soul as personal contest was with the ancient Greeks and as war, victory and justice were for the Romans...") and another section, which I can't find at the moment, wherein Nietzsche predicts that within a hundred years it won't be possible in some cities to walk the streets without a gun.

So: if this man believed that freedom is a myth, as he was constantly repeating, then it seems amazing that he set forth for himself a fairly bold purpose and saw it through. There is in his books an explication of how this is possible; but it's difficult to draw that explication out. One would have to be willing to make a lengthy foray into them to uncover it.
posted by koeselitz at 12:01 PM on December 6, 2007

...and in the time that it took to write all that, everybody else has already mentioned him. Ah well- they're right.
posted by koeselitz at 12:02 PM on December 6, 2007

Plato's Noble Lie
posted by callmejay at 1:11 PM on December 6, 2007

Just to add a branch to the genealogy: William Law in A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728) worked on the same "fake it till you make it" principle that LobsterMitten (rightly) ties to Aristotle. For example:
As devotion of the heart naturally breaks out into outward acts of prayer, so outward acts of prayer are natural means of raising the devotion of the heart. It is thus in all states and tempers of the mind. As the inward state of the mind produces outward actions suitable to it, so those outward actions have the like power of raising an inward state of mind suitable to them.
William Law was most certainly not a Jesuit, though some of his English contemporaries thought that his work smacked of "monasticism."
posted by Orinda at 1:24 PM on December 6, 2007

Taking your questions in order:

1. In Catholic theology, faith is seen as a gift of God. This means that there can be no question of 'fake it till you make it': either you have the gift of faith or you don't; and if you don't, there's no point acting as though you do. Faith is a free gift, not a reward for good behaviour.

However, Catholic theology (post-Aquinas) also adopts the Aristotelian notion of 'habit' and applies it to the Christian notion of faith. A habit (in the Aristotelian sense) can be developed and improved by training (or lost through neglect), so to speak of faith as a habit implies that it can be assisted by our own actions; we can 'grow' in faith by exercising our spiritual faculties, just as we can grow in fitness by exercising our bodies. Catholic theologians have tried to deal with this contradiction by drawing a distinction between 'infused habits' and 'acquired habits'. Infused habits (like faith) are given to us by God; acquired habits (like moral virtue) can be gained or lost by our own actions. In practice, however, the language of acquired habits tends to bleed over into the concept of faith, so that it is quite possible for C.S. Lewis, for example, to say that we must 'train the habit of faith' without sounding in the least unorthodox. The Council of Trent speaks of faith as an infused habit, but also says that this habit can be lost through mortal sin, and that it should be retained by doing good works. (For more on this, see Maarten Wisse, 'Habitus fidei: an essay on the history of a concept', Scottish Journal of Theology, 56: 2 (2003).)

2. Philosophical theology has traditionally been more concerned with trying to reconcile the concepts of determinism and freewill, rather than arguing that the one invalidates the other. I can't, offhand, think of anyone who would say "there's no such thing as freewill but we must behave as though there is". However, orthodox Christian theology has always argued strongly against antinomianism (the idea that justified believers have no need to obey the laws of morality), and one way to do this is to argue that we are 'predestined to the end but not to the means', i.e. even though our future fate is already determined and settled in the eyes of God (and whatever we do will make no difference to the matter), we still have a duty to follow the means to salvation.

On the more general question, of whether there are philosophers who argue that 'while certain propositions are not true, it is imperative to act as though they were', one interesting example would be Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who argued that God calls us to live in the world 'as if there were no God' (etsi deus non daretur). This has recently been inverted by Pope Benedict, who suggests that even non-believers need to behave 'as if God existed' (veluti si deus daretur) in order to preserve the moral basis of society. This reminds me of the closing words of Stanislaw Lem's novel Solaris, 'I knew nothing, and I persisted in the faith that the time of cruel miracles was not past' (which at one level could be read as an allegory of the predicament of the atheist in a godless world).
posted by verstegan at 9:51 AM on December 8, 2007

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